Skip to content



In order to heal from any wound, it is important to acknowledge what has been harmed and what needs to be healed, learn what will be required to heal, and take action. The findings provided in this report are an acknowledgment of the wounds of how white dominant culture(1) has caused harm and shown up within HSH and the struggles that have been experienced by its staff, funded providers, and people accessing the system while experiencing homelessness. Along with the anger and grief expressed, there is a consistent drumbeat of hope. The community that comprises HSH is strong-willed with a desire to heal and has the capacity to dedicate to transforming itself into an agency that embodies the equity-driven values it aspires to hold.

HSH has demonstrated a tangible intention to be different: through the mobilization around the ORE action plan, advocating for new resources dedicated to equity (the Chief Equity Officer position specifically) and partnering with CHJ to drive this work. The examples elevated within the findings below are specific to the experiences of the people that make up HSH, however are not unique to the way that white dominant culture shows up in most organizations, governments and systems in the U.S.(2) We see these findings as the opportunity for HSH to understand together what it will take to heal and transform. These findings are the first step.

Content Awareness: We want to preface that the findings in this section explicitly name examples of structural racism and white supremacy culture.

Staff interviewed across levels discussed the harmful impact of reactive leadership and priority-setting within the organization, regardless of issue, but expressed most concern related to its approach toward addressing racial equity. Both leadership and program staff asserted the concerns and fatigue caused by the current environment, stemming from external political pressures and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on staff capacity. Staff asserted that priorities set within the department are often dismissed or amended based on external political drivers and that imbalanced accountability driver fall short and further harm through instability within the department. This impacts the way staff participate and connect to staff meetings, and the ability for staff to interact with external stakeholders. This balancing act of potentially risking future funding, or HSH losing control of the implementation of funding controlled by the political landscape in San Francisco creates a foundation where HSH has to navigate constantly shifting political currents. This instability can distract from racial equity efforts, at other times undermining them. It is in this context that HSH leadership has struggled to drive any racial equity strategy forward.

In order to meet the demands of external pressures, HSH leadership has set the tone and message to staff to “keep pushing through the wall” and to “work harder.” This cultural tone dismisses experiences of real-time emotional burden of the pandemic, capacity issues, and structural racial biases, and in turn disproportionately impacts HSH’s direct line staff, who are predominantly staff of color.

Together, the reactive culture and reactive priority-setting impacts the emotional and physical wellbeing of the staff and roots itself in perpetuating white dominant cultural norms.(3) The connection of this environment and expectation to a historical burden on people of color, especially Black people, who have historically and systemically been requested or often required to take on emotionally and physically taxing work by white manager is important to elevate as part of this context to understand how cultural norms create barriers to equitable organizational culture.

Reactivity in service of political demands prohibits opportunities for authentic community- building and equitable decision-making and strategy that is rooted in the wisdom of people with direct experience of the ways inequity surfaces and resurfaces within an organization. This also harms the community because it inhibits the ability to model and hold transformative relationships with both people experiencing homelessness and the people within the organizations that HSH funds. In turn, it manifests in loss of trust and a hesitancy to believe in HSH’s commitment to racial equity.

If all we do is react, we are going to fail. We will not be able to lead effectively. We can’t distinguish for ourselves what is important and what is a priority.

HSH Staff

Throughout the discovery process, HSH staff shared common themes of experiencing harm without opportunities for authentic healing and repair. Two of the most consistent examples shared were 1) the harm felt by staff that was rooted from the initial formation process of the department, and 2) on-going staff relationships and engagement around former and existing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts. In addition, there was a theme elevated of lack of structure to provide safe and honest feedback that included grievances to HSH.

HSH’s origin story is rooted in paternalism—there was no consultation or transparency in decision-making that impacted the many employees who came to HSH from other city departments at its creation. The experiences of staff who were impacted by that process have expressed that the department’s formation and how new positions were classified during the formation created structural barriers that have disproportionately impacted Black HSH staff and reduced equitable opportunities to advance careers within the department. While some of these issues have been addressed, over time they have compounded to reflect a lack of trustworthiness of commitment to racial equity goals.

Power hoarding by staff in leadership positions was also expressed repeatedly by staff. Ideas from less senior staff have felt dismissed. Staff of color expressed the dismissal of ideas, priorities and concerns elevated by the DEI Committee to senior leadership. Specifically, staff elevated concerns related to structural issues that impact BIPOC staff and discussed multiple examples of occasions where the DEI Committee planned cultural programming that was dismissed and disrespected in order to center the comfort of white staff.

In addition, both staff and people with lived experience of the system shared experiences of a lack of opportunity or pathway to air grievances without fear of retaliation as a program participant or employee. While there are limitations to examples driven by individual cases, what emerged was a theme of a perception of fear of retaliation which impacts people feeling heard, valued and able to share experiences directly. Over time this contributes to an un-inclusive and even hostile work environment for some staff and indicates an unwillingness to meaningfully advance diversity, equity and inclusion work within the agency.

When you have trauma from before and lack of trust, the trauma is still there, even when the people change.

HSH Staff

Within HSH there is a strong desire to have “equity as part of everyone’s work,” but there is a lack of clarity on how this can be operationalized throughout the department’s structure. Bold statements proclaimed about equity from leadership have been received as performative rather than authentic. There are structural barriers that contribute to this. As examples, HSH created the DEI Committee, but the committee does not hold positional power to create sustained impact within the organization’s decision-making structure; and staff who participate in the DEI Committee or who participated in the creation of the ORE phase I action plan are not offered additional compensation, or even time/percentage allotments in their FTE for the work and necessary emotional labor associated with these efforts. HSH has also completed equity-related assessments in the past and have not yet applied operational changes in response to those findings(e.g. SPARC report; HSH Staff Equity Survey).(4),(5)

Staff who have been part of the DEI Committee and/or leadership team who are responsible for advancing equity-related goals expressed that the work to advance equity is often viewed as an “additional task” for everyone instead of approaching equity as a way to orient structure, organizational culture, and day-to-day practice. This has shown up systematically through the lack of resources dedicated for equity efforts to date. For example, staff who have been part of driving the DEI work to date have had to squeeze this work into their roles without additional resources and institutionalized support (e.g. schedule during lunch breaks, extra work). While the decision and approval to hire a Chief Equity Officer is a good first step, there is more work to be done than one position can hold.

No. It’s hard. People don’t realize equity costs something. Putting aside power and privilege. In  order for people to be empowered there needs to  be a sharing of power.

HSH Staff

Separating equity from the day-to-day work also can impact a very specific job-performance toll that disadvantages staff who are trying to advance equity efforts within the organization. Often, staff championing racial equity efforts are also not relieved from their full-time organizational role and responsibilities. This strains capacity and can indirectly impact performance in a full time role that does not reflect equity-related work, which over the long term–can impact performance and even employment status.

Only a few of us speak up and it’s exhausting. Carrying the weight of everybody. I am not your spokesperson.

HSH Staff

HSH has expressed consistent intention and desire to create and sustain an equitable culture and practice within the department,  however the efforts to date have not led to measurable or felt impact. CHJ has observed a lack of structure and resources (e.g. time) needed to authentically support the kind of accountability that is required to advance HSH’s stated racial equity goals. There is a lack of clarity on decision-making processes that support racial equity, antiracist leadership and clarity around who is ultimately accountable within the organization for advancing racial equity. 

As elevated earlier in these findings, there has been a historical lack of investment to authentically advance equity within HSH. The resource  named most often as a barrier throughout the discovery process was the lack of dedicated time to work on equity goals. 

White privilege is a systemic reality primarily grounded in inequitable systems and stereotypes.(6) White privilege gives white staff, particularly leadership, the option to lean in or lean out, or avoid discomfort when confronting racial dynamics. At HSH, this was apparent as white leadership expressed discomfort and concern of “getting it wrong.” In turn, reluctance to make mistakes has created lack of transparency, and resulted in a need for a structure that can hold transparent accountability on issues related to equity. This has also influenced the lack of action and a perception of apathy of leadership to advance equity efforts.

Additionally, there is limited structure and few opportunities for people experiencing homelessness and navigating the HSH funded system to have impact or input into the system. Equity efforts, including engaging people with lived experience of HSH-funded services, is primarily driven by specific staff-interest or funder requirements rather than being institutionally embedded. When CHJ conducted focus groups with people with lived experience, many people we spoke with stated that this was the first time they had been asked to engage or provide input based on their experiences. 

There is a direct impact on the ability to achieve racial equity when efforts lack an explicit structure for transparent accountability. Without it, attempts to advance equity fall flat and perpetuate the structural racism and harm to BIPOC individuals. CHJ heard expressed anger and confusion among external partners, and views among staff that this current effort is one last chance or a “final straw.” Ultimately, without a structure for accountability, HSH risks lasting reputational damage as a trusted organization to end homelessness for people of color in San Francisco.

Overtime recognized this is work that we do as individuals, committee, it has to be part of our department, our culture and is a huge job and takes time.

HSH Staff


(1) Okun, Tema and Kenneth Jones, 1999. “White Dominant Culture & Something Different: A Worksheet.”

(2) Gray, Aysa, 2019. “The Bias of ‘Professionalism’ Standards” Stanford Social Innovation Review. June 4, 2019.

(3) Okun, Tema and Kenneth Jones, 1999. “White Dominant Culture & Something Different: A Worksheet.

(4)  Okun, Tema and Kenneth Jones, 1999. “White Dominant Culture & Something Different: A Worksheet.

(5) Vu, 2019. “Are you Guilty of Equity Offset”.  Nonprofit AF.  November 17, 2019.

(6) Thomas, P.L. 2017. “Understanding Racism as Systemic and About Power”.  Radical Eyes for Equity. March 31, 2017.